“Hush!” replied the latter; “know only that our fortune depends upon our speed.”
As if Porthos had still been the musketeer of 1626, without a sou or a maille, he pushed forward. The magic word “fortune” always means something in the human ear. It means enough for those who have nothing; it means too much for those who have enough.
“I shall be made a duke!” said Porthos, aloud. He was speaking to himself.
“That is possible,” replied Aramis, smiling after his own fashion, as the horse of Porthos passed him. The head of Aramis was, notwithstanding, on fire; the activity of the body had not yet succeeded in subduing that of the mind. All that there is in raging passions, in severe toothaches, or mortal threats twisted, gnawed, and groaned in the thoughts of the vanquished prelate. His countenance exhibited very visible traces of this rude combat. Free upon the highway to abandon himself to every impression of the moment, Aramis did not fail to swear at every start of his horse, at every inequality in the road. Pale, at times inundated with boiling sweats, then again dry and icy, he beat his horses and made the blood stream from their sides. Porthos, whose dominant fault was not sensibility, groaned at this. Thus they travelled on for eight long hours, and then arrived at Orleans. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Aramis, searching his recollections, judged that nothing demonstrated pursuit to be possible. It would be without example that a troop capable of taking him and Porthos should be furnished with relays sufficient to perform forty leagues in eight hours. Thus, admitting pursuit, which was not at all manifest, the fugitives were five hours in advance of their pursuers.
Aramis thought that there might be no imprudence in taking a little rest, but that to continue would make the matter more certain. Twenty leagues more performed with the same rapidity, twenty more leagues devoured, and no one, not even d’Artagnan, could overtake the enemies of the King. Aramis felt obliged, therefore, to inflict upon Porthos the pain of mounting on horseback again. They rode on till seven o’clock in the evening, and had only one post more between them and Blois. But here a diabolical accident alarmed Aramis greatly; there were no horses at the post. The prelate asked himself by what infernal machination his enemies had succeeded in depriving him of the means of going farther. He who never recognized chance as a deity, he who found a cause for every result,- he preferred believing that the refusal of the postmaster, at such an hour, in such a country, was the consequence of an order emanating from above; an order given with a view of stopping short the king-maker in the midst of his flight. But at the moment he was about to fly into a passion, so as to procure either a horse or an explanation, he suddenly recollected that the Comte de la Fere lived in the neighborhood.
“I am not travelling,” said he; “I do not want horses for a whole stage. Find me two horses to go and pay a visit to a nobleman of my acquaintance who resides near this place.”
“What nobleman?” asked the postmaster.
“M. le Comte de la Fere.”
“Oh!” replied the postmaster, uncovering with respect, “a very worthy nobleman. But whatever may be my desire to make myself agreeable to him, I cannot furnish you with horses, for all mine are engaged by M. le Duc de Beaufort.”
“Indeed!” said Aramis, much disappointed.
“Only,” continued the postmaster, “if you will put up with a little carriage I have, I will harness an old blind horse, who has still his legs left, and who will draw you to the house of M. le Comte de la Fere.”
“That is worth a louis,” said Aramis.
“No, Monsieur, that is never worth more than a crown. That is what M. Grimaud, the count’s intendant, always pays me when he makes use of that carriage; and I should not wish the Comte de la Fere to have to reproach me with having imposed on one of his friends.”
“As you please,” said Aramis, “particularly as regards disobliging the Comte de la Fere; you will have your crown, but I have a right to give you a louis for your idea.”
“Oh, doubtless!” replied the postmaster, with delight; and he himself harnessed the old horse to the creaking carriage. In the mean time Porthos was curious to behold. He imagined he had discovered the secret, and he felt pleased,- because a visit to Athos in the first place promised him much satisfaction, and in the next, gave him the hopes of finding at the same time a good bed and a good supper. The master, having got the carriage ready, ordered one of his men to drive the strangers to La Fere. Porthos took his seat by the side of Aramis, whispering in his ear, “I understand.”
“Ah, ah!” said Aramis, “and what do you understand, my friend?”
“We are going, on the part of the King, to make some great proposal to Athos.”
“Pooh!” said Aramis.
“You need tell me nothing about it,” added the worthy Porthos, endeavoring to place himself so as to avoid the jolting,- “you need tell me nothing, I shall guess.”
“Well, do, my friend; guess away.”
They arrived at Athos’s dwelling about nine o’clock in the evening, favored by a splendid moon. This cheerful light rejoiced Porthos beyond expression; but Aramis appeared annoyed by it in an equal degree. He could not help showing something of this to Porthos, who replied, “Ay, ay! I guess how it is!- the mission is a secret one.”
These were his last words in the carriage. The driver interrupted him by saying:
“Gentlemen, you are arrived.”
Porthos and his companion alighted before the gate of the little château, where we are about to meet again with Athos and Bragelonne, both of whom had disappeared after the discovery of the infidelity of La Valliere.
If there be one saying more true than another, it is this: great griefs contain within themselves the germ of their consolation. This painful wound inflicted upon Raoul had drawn him nearer to his father; and God knows how sweet were the consolations that flowed from the eloquent mouth and generous heart of Athos. The wound was not healed, but Athos, by dint of conversing with his son and mingling a little of his life with that of the young man, had brought him to understand that this pang of a first infidelity is necessary to every human existence; and that no one has loved without meeting with it.
Raoul listened often, but never understood. Nothing replaces in the deeply afflicted heart the remembrance and thought of the beloved object. Raoul replied to the reasonings of his father, “Monsieur, all that you tell me is true. I believe that no one has suffered in the affections of the heart so much as you have; but you are a man too great in intelligence, and too severely tried by misfortunes, not to allow for the weakness of the soldier who suffers for the first time. I am paying a tribute which I shall not pay a second time; permit me to plunge myself so deeply in my grief that I may forget myself in it, that I may drown in it even my reason.”
“Listen, Monsieur. Never shall I accustom myself to the idea that Louise, the most chaste and the most innocent of women, has been able so basely to deceive a man so honest and so loving as I. Never can I persuade myself that I see that sweet and good mask change into a hypocritical and lascivious face. Louise lost! Louise infamous! Ah, Monseigneur, that idea is much more cruel to me than Raoul abandoned, Raoul unhappy!”
Athos then employed the heroic remedy. He defended Louise against Raoul, and justified her perfidy by her love. “A woman who would have yielded to the King because he is the King,” said he, “would deserve to be styled infamous; but Louise loves Louis. Both young, they have forgotten, he his rank, she her vows. Love absolves everything, Raoul. The two young people love each other with sincerity.”
And when he had dealt this severe poniard-thrust, Athos, with a sigh, saw Raoul bound away under the cruel wound, and fly to the thickest recesses of the wood or the solitude of his chamber, whence, an hour after, he would return, pale and trembling, but subdued. Then coming up to Athos with a smile he would kiss his hand, like the dog who having been beaten caresses a good master to redeem his fault. Raoul listened only to his weakness, and confessed only his grief.
Thus passed away the days that followed that scene in which Athos had so violently shaken the indomitable pride of the King. Never, when conversing with his son, did he make any allusion to that scene; never did he give him the details of that vigorous lecture, which might perhaps have consoled the young man, by showing him his rival humbled. Athos did not wish that the offended lover should forget the respect due to the King. And when Bragelonne, ardent, furious, and melancholy, spoke with contempt of royal words, of the equivocal faith which certain madmen draw from promises falling from thrones; when, passing over two centuries with the rapidity of a bird which traverses a narrow strait, to go from one world to the other, Raoul ventured to predict the time in which kings would become less than other men,- Athos said to him in his serene, persuasive voice, “You are right, Raoul. All that you say will happen: kings will lose their privileges, as stars which have completed their time lose their splendor. But when that moment shall come, Raoul, we shall be dead. And remember well what I say to you. In this world, all- men, women, and kings must live for the present. We can live for the future only in living for God.”
This was the manner in which Athos and Raoul were as usual conversing, as they walked backwards and forwards in the long alley of limes in the park, when the bell which served to announce to the count either the hour of dinner or the arrival of a visitor, was rung. Mechanically, without attaching any importance to the summons, he turned towards the house with his son; and at the end of the alley they found themselves in the presence of Aramis and Porthos.
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